Owners Approve Marlins, Expos Sales

Wednesday, February 13th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Baseball's failed attempt to fold two franchises, and ownership changes in Boston, Florida and Montreal were only a prelude, according to commissioner Bud Selig.

``This has been very painful, I know, for a lot of people,'' Selig said Tuesday. ``Now we can focus on the main event, and certainly the negotiation is the main event.''

Sounds like baseball owners expect major gains in collective bargaining, which means a long, drawn-out negotiation with the threat of another work stoppage in late 2002 or 2003.

For now, though, Montreal is assured of one more _ and probably just one more, season of major league baseball.

In an unprecedented move, baseball owners unanimously approved the takeover of the Expos by the commissioner's office and the sale of the Florida Marlins to Montreal's current owner.

The votes, taken just three days before those teams start spring training, caused immediate management shifts. Montreal manager Jeff Torborg quit and became Florida's manager, and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson was hired as the Expos' manager.

Larry Beinfest, who had been the Expos' interim general manager, resigned to become Florida's general manager and was replaced by Omar Minaya, who had been senior assistant general manager of the New York Mets. Tony Tavares, who quit the Anaheim Angels last month, was appointed Montreal's team president.

``From this day forward, in terms of the decisions they make, they are on their own,'' Selig said.

Selig would not assure survival beyond this season for Montreal, which joined the major leagues in 1969. He promised the Expos would be run independently and that their top young players, such as Vladimir Guerrero, wouldn't be traded.

``There have been no conversations among us about fire sales or anything like that,'' Selig said, adding that ``this is part of a plan that, hopefully, will lead to an orderly contraction.''

The only previous time a major league team was owned by a league or the commissioner's office was briefly between the 1942 and 1943 seasons, according to research by the Hall of Fame and the Elias Sport Bureau.

The National League took over the Philadelphia Phillies on Feb. 9 from Gerald Nugent, who fell behind in his rent at Shibe Park and sold the team on March 15 to William D. Cox _ who was banned for life by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis that Nov. 23 for gambling on Phillies games.

Never before has a major league baseball team been ownerless during a season.

``This is historical in nature and obviously unique,'' Selig said.

Current Marlins owner John Henry, frustrated at the failure to get a new ballpark, set the musical chairs in motion when the group he heads was given approval Jan. 16 to buy the Boston Red Sox for $660 million from the Jean R. Yawkey Trust.

Jeffrey Loria is buying the Marlins from Henry for $158.5 million and selling the Montreal franchise for $120 million to Baseball Expos LP, a Delaware limited partnership owned by the other 29 teams. The commissioner's office is lending him the difference between the prices.

``This team is ready to rock and ready to roll this year. We've just got to stay healthy,'' said Loria, a New York art dealer who bought control of the Expos in December 1999.

Loria, who hopes the sales will be completed Friday, will become the third owner of the Marlins, who began play in 1993 and won the World Series in 1997. Founding owner H. Wayne Huizenga, convinced the government wouldn't help fund a ballpark, sold the team to Henry in January 1999.

``We're fully committed to the team and the Florida community,'' Loria said.

Montreal drew a major league low 619,451 last season to Olympic Stadium, an average of just 7,648 per game, and Florida was 29th at 1.26 million. The Expos were last among the 30 teams in revenue at $34.2 million, and Florida was 28th at $60.5 million, just ahead of Minnesota at $56.3 million.

Owners originally intended to fold the Expos and Twins, who also failed to gain government funding for a new ballpark, but a Minnesota judge issued an injunction that forced the Twins to honor their 2002 lease at the Metrodome.

In the fallout of the failure to contract, Minaya became the first Hispanic general manager in the major leagues and the second minority, joining Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox, who is black. Robinson became the seventh current minority manager.

A 66-year-old Hall of Famer who is fourth on the career home run list at 586, Robinson had been the vice president in the commissioner's office in charge of discipline for on-field misconduct. He spent parts of 11 seasons as manager of Cleveland, San Francisco and Baltimore, compiling a 680-751 record.

``This is one-year shot for me,'' Robinson said.